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Raven Crime Reads

Criminally good reads…

Blog Tour- Elizabeth Haynes- Never Alone- Review

A few years ago, way ahead of the fashionable, over-hyped, and largely disappointing array of domestic noir thrillers, Elizabeth Haynes wrote Into The Darkest Corner, untouched by girls, trains, nauseating middle class strife, and the like. To my mind, having dabbled in the current crop, Into The Darkest Corner still stands head and shoulders above what I have read to date in the domestic noir genre, in terms of its psychological depth, character development, the sheer visceral chill of a woman under threat, and how the reader can actually relate to and believe in the insidious danger that Haynes presented to us. Having read most of Haynes’ books since, I was more than happy to curl up with her latest book, Never Alone and post a review for this blog tour marking its publication…

haynesSarah Carpenter lives in an isolated farmhouse in North Yorkshire and for the first time, after the death of her husband some years ago and her children, Louis and Kitty, leaving for university, she’s living alone. But she doesn’t consider herself lonely. She has two dogs, a wide network of friends and the support of her best friend, Sophie. When an old acquaintance, Aiden Beck, needs somewhere to stay for a while, Sarah s cottage seems ideal; and renewing her relationship with Aiden gives her a reason to smile again. It s supposed to be temporary, but not everyone is comfortable with the arrangement: her children are wary of his motives, and Will Brewer, an old friend of her son s, seems to have taken it upon himself to check up on Sarah at every opportunity. Even Sophie has grown remote and distant. After Sophie disappears, it’s clear she hasn’t been entirely honest with anyone, including Will, who seems more concerned for Sarah’s safety than anyone else. As the weather closes in, events take a dramatic turn and Kitty too goes missing. Suddenly Sarah finds herself in terrible danger, unsure of who she can still trust. But she isn’t facing this alone; she has Aiden, and Aiden offers the protection that Sarah needs. Doesn’t he?

And so to Never Alone, and Haynes once again with an immediate intensity, draws us into the life of Sarah Carpenter, an emotionally fragile woman three years on from the loss of her husband, and residing in a metaphorically empty nest with her two children having left home for differing reasons. What Haynes disseminates so well in this book is the nature of human relationships, and every character is used to explore the differing connections we make with one another. As the following demonstrates there are numerous different permutations of characters’ connections to one another throughout the book. Sarah finds herself emotionally unsettled by the reappearance of an old flame, Aiden, who takes up residence in a small cottage aligning her property, concealing certain revelations about his past interactions with her late husband, and the shocking reveal of his current career choice. She is also grappling with missing her daughter Kitty who is at university (who is also experiencing her first love affair) and the minimal contact with her son Louis, who has his own reasons for shunning her. Sarah also has only one close friendship in this small community, with glamorous and larger than life politician’s wife, Sophie, which seems an unlikely alliance, and when Sarah is plunged into the company of others seems rather a square peg in a round hole. Then there is Will, a friend of her son’s Louis, who comes to the attention of Aiden and Sophie for differing reasons, and Sophie and Aiden also have a connection. Haynes perfectly controls the gradual reveals about the deeper connections between various characters, and by splitting the narrative in sections between them, gives her a real opportunity to explore their psychology, and allows us to see the same scenarios from different viewpoints.

Sometimes I felt that the characterisation was a little diminished by the need to so completely control all their connections to one another, and how these would bring the action together at the denouement of the book, and felt there was a certain amount of repetition in how Sarah was presented. In particular, her critique of her own life, that did seem to be endlessly re-treading the same analysis of her emotional and financial situation. I hesitate to use the word annoying, but she didn’t engage my empathy as much as she should have. I did, however, like the characters of Louis and Sophie very much, who had interesting textures and quirks to them which I would have like to have seen more fully explored, and Aiden proved a pivotal figure to the book with shades of light and dark to keep the reader on their toes. There is also a sinister stream of consciousness by a certain character, that runs chillingly throughout the book, alerting us to the danger of an individual on the brink of violence, and Haynes largely conceals the identity of this person until a crucial point in the plot.

I very much liked the setting of the book, using the North Yorkshire Moors, as an immovable and threatening backdrop in the grip of winter, reflecting the psychological bleakness and threat of the main plot. The perfectly placed reveals of one character’s connection to another drove the plot consistently at a measured and controlled pace, and although the unveiling of the bad egg in the whole affair did not come as a real surprise, there was a good amount of tension and suspicion built up along the way to keep reading on. Although not entirely convinced why the bad person did what they did for the reasons they did and how this was played out, I feel that the consistency of the writing up until that point more than justifies giving this one a look. Perhaps, this is a testament to the writing of Haynes herself that even, in my humble opinion, a slightly below par book from her is still immeasurably more enjoyable than others in her chosen genre. Recommended.

(With thanks to Myriad Editions for the ARC)

Catch up with the #NeverAlone Blog Tour at these excellent sites:

Never Alone blog tour

Malcolm Mackay- For Those Who Know The Ending

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Usman Kassar is comfortable in his older brother’s shadow, for now. Staying off the radars of the big players lets him plan big scores with little danger of detection. But dangerous jobs will get you noticed, whether you want them to or not.

Martin Sivok is a gunman without a target. An outsider in a new city who doesn’t know how to make a fresh start. But when you desperately need doors to start opening, someone like Usman might just persuade you to pull at the wrong handle – like the one that opens a safe full of dirty money. Dirty money that the Jamieson organization, one of the most dangerous criminal outfits in town, wants back.

Any job can have brutal consequences when it threatens the reputation of Nate Colgan. Nate can’t help being frightening; a man with darkness inside him. As the reluctant ‘security consultant’ for a fracturing criminal organization, he knows that unless he recovers the stolen money quickly, much more than his livelihood will be on the line. But if you’ve been forced into a job that you know could be your ending, how hard will you fight to keep it?

I think it’s fair to say that Malcolm Mackay is rather a favourite of mine, having previously, and favourably, reviewed most of his books to date. For Those Who Know The Ending is the latest in his series of Glasgow based thrillers, and once again we are plunged into the seedy underbelly of gangland life…

There is much to admire with Mackay’s spare and precise prose, so clearly in evidence again here, and the clipped dialogue, which perfectly reflects the feeling of his male protagonists as men of action where violence achieves more than conversational intercourse. Interestingly, it’s only when these tough guys reflect on their home situation and their closest emotional ties, that these characters display anything akin to human compassion, and the importance of the women in their lives comes to the fore. It’s also this aspect of their characters that delves beneath their steely and uncompromising roles in their gangland affiliations, and exposes moments of self-doubt. This works as an effective foil to what could just be a linear and superficial tale of male bravado, and harks back wonderfully to the golden age of American hard-boiled noir, when even the most ‘male’ of male characters are unsettled by female influence. This is reflected by Nate Colgan, nominally keeping up the interests of the imprisoned gangland boss Peter Jamieson’s criminal organisation, his hired heavy Gully Fitzgerald, and by Martin Sivok, a gunman of Czech descent trying to forge his path in the badlands of Glasgow, whose domestic situations are drawn on periodically throughout the book, and revealing different aspects of their character in their interaction with their better halves. This serves to heighten the reader’s sympathy as the themes are love and loss are brought to the fore, bringing a sense of emotional poignancy amidst the uncompromising violence.

For those unfamiliar with the series to date, fret not, as once again there is the useful inclusion of characters that have featured previously, so even a nominal reference to a character now deceased or incarcerated is easy to catch up with. I particularly like this feeling of each book being akin to a single act in a lengthy saga, and how the permutations of shifting alliances, and eager newcomers ready to make their mark, fit into the overall story arc. Mackay controls the narrative beautifully, and there is a real sense of us being fully immersed in the double crossing and chicanery that accompanies the story of Sivok and his wily, young associate Usman Kassar, who dreams up financially lucrative schemes to hit the illegal business of predominant gangland figures. Obviously this brings them very much onto the radar of Nate Colgan, endeavouring to keep house for Jamieson’s empire, and Mackay develops a controlled and compelling story with our young pretender, Kassar, and, at times, unwilling cohort Sivok as Colgan seeks his vengeance. As always each character is perfectly formed, and as mentioned earlier, Mackay injects a multi-layered aspect to his characterisation of these main protagonists to great affect. With the world these men inhabit and operate in, there is always a simmering undercurrent of violence, which when it bursts forth is brutal and unflinching, adding a frisson to the whole affair, and ramping up the tension to the nth degree.

Obviously as a devotee of the American hard-boiled noir genre, I am constantly delighted by Mackay’s accomplishment at transposing this style onto his contemporary Glasgow setting, and his now trademark spare prose, so resolutely in evidence again in For Those Who Know The Ending. Equally, the multi-layered nature of his characterisation opens up the more emotive facets of his characters, serving to unsettle the reader and shift our alliances. Impressed once again, and once more, highly recommended.

(With thanks to Mantle for the ARC)

Pierre Lemaitre- Blood Wedding

blood

Sophie Duguet is losing her grip. Haunted by visions from her past, of her loving husband, who committed suicide after a car accident.

One morning she wakes to find Leo, the child in her care, strangled in his bed by Sophie’s own shoelaces. She can remember nothing of the night before. Could she really have killed him? She flees in panic, but this only cements her guilt in the eyes of the law.

Not long afterwards it happens again – she wakes with blood on her hands, with no memory of the murder committed. Just what is it that comes over Sophie when she sleeps? And what else might she be capable of?

Wanted by the police, and desperate to change her identity, Sophie decides to find a man to marry. To have and to hold. For better or for worse. Till death do them part . . .

Having been blown away by Lemaitre’s Brigade Criminelle trilogy, Irene, Alex and Camille featuring diminutive detective Camille Verhoeven, we now have the compelling standalone Blood Wedding, which further serves to demonstrate the sheer brilliance of Monsieur Lemaitre.

Once again, Lemaitre has produced a book that proves troublesome to review in terms of potential plot spoilers. Reducing the story to a linear description, Blood Wedding focuses on a young woman, Sophie who finds herself implicated in two murders, and going on the run, seeks to conceal her identity further by entering into a marriage with a man she meets online, giving her the security to explore the reasons for her attributed guilt, and come to terms with her tangled past. But this is Lemaitre, known for slips and tricks which play with the reader’s perception, and as the plot twists and turns, turns and twists, we are consistently wrong-footed and deceived. In the best tradition of Patricia Highsmith and Alfred Hitchcock, Lemaitre slowly reveals the plight of a woman in a confused psychological state, seeking to make meaning of the situation she finds herself in, whilst having possibly having been manipulated by person or persons unknown. Consequently, as each previously unknown detail of Sophie’s plight is revealed, with pinpoint precision timing, I would challenge you all to resist the impetus to keep reading, and reading, and reading…

Another real strength of Lemaitre’s work to date, is the depth and realism that he consistently instils in his female protagonists, and I’m always mightily impressed by male writers who achieve this so convincingly. Without a shadow of a doubt, Sophie is seen to run through the whole gamut of human emotion from her initial bewilderment, self-questioning and threat of incarceration, to her own critical analysis of her situation, and a growing steadfast resolve and path of clear-thinking to extricate herself from her now under threat personal freedom. Into the mix comes Frantz, her unwitting potential husband, who possesses a degree of self-knowledge that maybe Sophie is not so enamoured with their match as he is, but resolves to make the best of it regardless, seemingly to bring a degree of solidity to his own troubled past. I will delve no deeper into their attendant character traits at this point, but suffice to say there are more revelations afoot. This combination of extremely well-developed characters, and the reliance of the two of them to drive forward the intricate and exceptionally well plotted story arc, shows a clear degree of authorial skill and deftness of touch that eludes many other writers. As a crime reader, precise plotting, the control of suspense, and believable characterisation lay at the core of my reading pleasure, and Lemaitre achieves this beautifully throughout. The plot twists are in no way reliant on the suspension of disbelief, or clumsily wrought, leading to a genuinely intriguing, and utterly enthralling, example of psychological suspense. The novel is once again beautifully translated by Lemaitre regular, Frank Wynne, which captures all the nuances, and linguistic tone of the original French, further adding to the reader’s enjoyment.

There is little left to say regarding Blood Wedding, as my admiration for Lemaitre has surely been noticed already, but drawing on a well worn adage, I would simply say, if you only read one thriller this summer, do make sure it’s this one. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to MacLehose Press for the ARC)

Massimo Carlotto- For All The Gold In The World

cover_9781609453367_661_600A robbery goes wrong and ends with a brutal murder. The police investigation turns up nothing. Two years later, Marco Buratti, alias ‘the Alligator,’ is asked to look into the crime and find out who was responsible. Buratti’s employer is young, the youngest client he has ever had; he is only 12 years old, the son of one of the victims. The Alligator senses right from the start that the truth is cloaked, twisted and shocking. Together with his trusted associates he will find himself mixed up in a story of contraband gold and blood vendettas between criminal gangs.

Massimo Carlotto is undoubtedly one of the most astute observers of the criminal and social dynamics of his native Italy. For All The Gold In The World featuring series regular Marco Buratti aka The Alligator, Carlotto once again takes the opportunity to fix his unique gaze on the complexity of his homeland.

In another taut investigation, unlicensed private investigator Buratti and his shady cohorts Beniamino Rossini and Max The Memory, are drawn into a tale of greed and murder following a particularly violent home invasion leaving the mother of a now vulnerable twelve year old boy dead. What Carlotto so brilliantly achieves in this book is an interesting exploration of his main characters’ barometer of morality. For three men who have indulged in criminal activity themselves and are no strangers to violence, there is something really quite touching about their willingness to take on this particular case, but balanced with the inherent buzz of danger that begins to embroil them as the investigation progresses. The main plot is underscored by the periodic authorial intervention of Carlotto himself, passing comment on the socio-political make-up of Italy, and providing an insider’s view of the layers of corruption that exist between the higher echelons of Italian power through to the world of law enforcement. This adds a richness of detail to the overall book, and works in perfect symmetry with the utterly compelling thriller that Carlotto has constructed.

I am a confirmed fan of both Marco Buratti and Carlotto’s other regular series character Giorgio Pellegrini, so for reasons unexplained this book gives a delicious pointer to things to come. Buratti is a man of contradictions, with his inherent violent masculinity that we see in his ‘day-job’, working in tandem with a sometimes apparent sensitivity in the personal sphere of his life. He has a huge obsession with the Blues, and Carlotto enlivens the book further with musical references and Buratti’s night visits to a local jazz club, whilst investigating the activities of a possibly philandering wife for an anxious husband. With Buratti being Buratti, this spawns an inevitable love interest for him, but once again affords Carlotto the opportunity to explore a deeper emotional side of Buratti’s character. There is also the wonderful dynamic of Buratti with his criminal cohorts Rossini and Max that not only demonstrates the solidity of their masculine fraternity, but also at perfect intervals allows us to witness their easy humour, and the emotional scars that they all bear. This exploration of ‘maleness’ is a recurrent strength of Italian crime fiction I find, and Carlotto is one of the masters.

Quite simply, this is gritty and edgy Italian noir at its best, with its vibrant and unflinching mix of violence and criminality, underscored by superb exploration of character and a wider focus on society as a whole. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Europa Editions for the ARC)

Bijou Crime- Frederic Dard- The Wicked Go To Hell/Bird In A Cage- Jonathan Ames- You Were Never Really Here

I will confess that I am quite the fan of the Pushkin Vertigo series that is bringing to my attention a whole host of European crime authors previously unknown to me. With the titles to date being generally compact and slim novellas, for this post I will give you a brief overview of my best discoveries to date…

dardBeing such a confirmed fan of Georges Simenon, I could not believe my utter ignorance of the work of Frederic Dard, whose output in terms of number and quality is widely lauded as the equal of Simenon himself. I thought The Wicked Go To Hell in particular was absolutely outstanding, opening with an unnamed and deniable police officer being instructed to go undercover into gaol to initiate a prison break with a recently confined criminal to infiltrate the organisation the prisoner is affiliated with. Not until the final bloody denouement is the reader in possession of the knowledge as to which character is which when the undercover operation begins, being named merely as Hal and Frank. From the claustrophobic intensity of their initial confinement until their attempted escape and beyond, Dard inveigles us in a bizarre guessing game as to which morally dubious man is which, as each tries to deceive and expose the true identity of the other. From the inherent violence of the institution at the hands of sadistic guards, to their quest for freedom, Dard keeps up this emotionally bleak, and sinister tone, which serves to unsettle the reader consistently throughout. I was quite frankly mesmerised from start to finish, despite the darkness and sense of base evil that the book consistently exhibits, and I loved the aspect of reader participation that Dard so skilfully wove into the tale as we seek to discover the true identity of each man, and the descent into immorality we are all capable of.

 

dardEqually, Bird In A Cage was imbued with a tantalising mix of Patricia Highsmith and Alfred Hitchcock, as a man returns to Paris at Christmas to mourn, and settle the affairs, of his late mother. He encounters a beguiling woman with her young child, whilst dining out one night who inflames his curiosity, being both attractive and the added mystery of appearing to have bloodstains on her sleeve. When he is enticed to return to her apartment, he becomes embroiled in a sinister and dangerous conspiracy which seeks to unravel his life completely. The emotional intensity of this plot is in evidence from the outset, with the title referring to an innocuous Christmas gift for the child, and the psychological impasse that Albert finds himself in, Dard has constructed a claustrophobic existentialist drama that toys with the reader’s perception, and provides an additional deconstruction of male and female psychological impulses. This is a slim dark tale that is engaging enough, but did slightly lack the psychological edge, and bleak immorality of The Wicked Go To Hell, but is worth seeking out as an initial entry point into Dard’s not inconsiderable back catalogue.

 

img_0707In a change of pace and authorial style, I also read You Were Never Really Here by Jonathan Ames, a novella that runs to 87 pages and soon to be a feature film starring Joaquin Phoenix. Joe, a former FBI agent and U. S. Marine, harbouring the memories of an abusive childhood, and the violent events of his recent careers, now has largely dropped out from society, earning a living tracking down and rescuing young girls from the grip of the sex trade. Now he has been hired to save the daughter of a New York senator, held captive in a Manhattan brothel, but finds himself ensnared in a dangerous web of conspiracy and violence. Described as a toxic shock of a thriller, this bijou slice of American noir, delivers a real punch to the reader, and I was mightily impressed how much well defined characterisation, and breadth of action, Ames crams into such a minimal page count. Quickly your sympathies for Joe is heightened and from the beginning you are rooting for him, your empathy well and truly put into overdrive as the mental and physical damage he has experienced is put sharply into focus, and there is a real strength to Ames’ writing in passages where Joe indulges in some critical self-examination of his own psyche. The degree of manipulation he experiences in the course of this mission is well wrought, and the violence throughout is swift and uncompromising, making this a real read-in- one-sitting thriller. My only slight bugbear is the slight cynicism of the ending which too obviously paves the way for a potential sequel, and left me a little unsatisfied, but with a cover price of less than a vacuous throwaway magazine there’s still plenty here for your fiver. Recommended.

(With thanks to Pushkin Press for the ARCs)

Blog Tour- Alex Clare- He’s Gone- Review

goneHow do you find a missing child when his mother doesn’t believe you have the right to even exist? When Detective Inspector Roger Bailley returns to work as Robyn, all she wants is to get on with the job she loves while finally being herself. When toddler Ben Chivers is snatched from a shopping centre on her first day back at work, Robyn has to find Ben- and herself- as she deals with the reactions of her police colleagues, the media and her own daughter…

Trawling the inventory of my crime reading over the years, my interest was piqued by this debut British thriller which has a unique selling point of addressing the issue of gender dysphoria. With the central police character D.I. Roger Bailley returning to work having assumed a new identity as female Detective Inspector Robyn Bailley, Alex Clare invites us into a world hitherto largely unexplored in crime fiction with the emphasis on a police officer undergoing gender reassignment…

Although not without some minor flaws, I largely enjoyed this debut thriller, particularly its focus as a police procedural. There are three central cases revolving around a child’s abduction, the discovery of a body at a building project, and a series of home invasions with elderly individuals as the target. To my mind, the first two of these cases being inextricably linked were very well-realised , and Clare’s obvious research into the balance of straightforward, and at times, mundane details of how police officers garner information and follow leads was well plotted and completely realistic. I actually felt that the third case involving burglaries was a little superfluous to the plot overall, as the predominance of the other two cases, in terms of how they were played out, and the attendant frustrations to the police team’s investigation more than held my interest throughout. I was intrigued by the child abduction case from the outset, mainly due to the characterisation of Ben’s mother, Melissa Chivers, a formidable lawyer, who was singularly one of the most deeply unpleasant individuals that one could encounter. Her spiky interactions with the police, and Bailley in particular, added a real stressful tension to the plot. I would have liked a deeper exploration of her connections to the Church of Immaculate Purity, who sounded like a very sinister bunch of bigots consumed with the belief that everyone is damned to hell, especially if you do not fit their criteria of ‘normalcy’- hence the inevitable tension and bile that Melissa heaps on Bailley. However, this slight lapse aside, I liked the quite clean, linear style of the police cases throughout, with the investigations unfolding with no clumsy coincidences or leap in the dark plot twists. There were moments of genuine tension, neatly inserted into the more linear nature of the police investigation, which added a satisfying ebb and flow to the plot as a whole.

In terms of characterisation, Clare has created a band of police officers who were both extremely believable and overall quite likeable. There are some nice instances of the camaraderie that exists between a team working together day-to-day, and the shared frustrations or triumphs that accompany the twists and turns of a police investigation. The dialogue is fluid and realistic throughout, and the conversations and interactions between her police protagonists has an easy flow to it. Obviously, by addressing the issue of Bailley’s new identity, Clare largely captures the differing reactions that Bailley experiences from her colleagues, the press, her daughter Becky and the perpetrators and victims of crime. On the whole, Clare depicts Bailley and her experiences very well, but I couldn’t help feeling that a little too much of it was surface detail, with many references to Bailley’s focus on her physical appearance in terms of clothes and make-up etc and navigating the skill of being comfortable with a handbag. I would have liked a deeper exploration of Bailley’s psychology as to her decision and motivation to change gender, and her underlying feelings as to why this was so central to her growth and acceptance as a person. There was a possible ‘in’ for this, with the introduction of her daughter into the plot, but this storyline was a little at arm’s length, being largely conducted by phone or text. I would like to have known more about Becky generally, and the fraught relationship with her father, and more to have been made of them finding their way back to each other. Hopefully, this further examination of Bailley gender dysphoria will come to fruition as the series progresses, as this is such a largely unexplored and emotive subject, with a wealth of possibilities, and Bailley’s change as a person growing into, and becoming more comfortable with, her new identity will be interesting to witness.

I think this first introduction to D.I. Robyn Bailley and her team has enormous potential in terms of a series, and with Clare’s obvious skill for plot building, attention to police procedure, and, on the whole, well-realised characterisation there is much to build on in the future. Recommended.

(With thanks to Impress Books for the ARC)

 

 

Anna Mazzola- The Unseeing

unseeingSet in London in 1837, The Unseeing is the story of Sarah Gale, a seamstress and mother, sentenced to hang for her role in the murder of Hannah Brown on the eve of her wedding. After Sarah petitions for mercy, Edmund Fleetwood is appointed to investigate and consider whether justice has been done. Idealistic, but struggling with his own demons, Edmund is determined to seek out the truth. Yet Sarah refuses to help him, neither lying nor adding anything to the evidence gathered in court. Edmund knows she’s hiding something, but needs to discover just why she’s maintaining her silence. For how can it be that someone would willingly go to their own death?

Despite my patchy reading of historical crime fiction, I heard Anna Mazzola talk about her debut at this year’s CrimeFest convention in Bristol, and was suitably intrigued by this fictionalisation of a true murder case from the Victorian period. The Edgeware Road Murder of 1837 which led to many a lurid story in the popular press, resulted in Sarah Gale being convicted of aiding and abetting James Greenacre in the murder of his fiancée Hannah Brown. Gale refused to give a full testimony, simply stating that she knew nothing. Frankly, having been bored witless by other non-fiction accounts of Victorian murder cases e.g. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher,  hopes were high that the story of Sarah Gale would draw me in…

From the very beginning I found this an intelligent, detailed and emotionally engaging read. Mazzola’s characterisation of Sarah in particular was incredibly powerful, showing a woman struggling with the secrets that she chooses not to expose in open court, and thus willingly forfeiting her right to a fair trial. As the plot unfolds, and Edmund Fleetwood investigates her case further to commute her sentence,  it becomes abundantly clear why she has adopted such a closed and taciturn demeanour during her trial. Mazzola controls the pace of Fleetwood’s uncovering of Sarah’s motivations and actions beautifully, and the characterisation of both is perfectly drawn throughout. Sarah exudes a natural dignity that makes her appear rather closed down from natural emotion, and I liked the way that layers of her character are revealed gradually, with her fierce loyalty to both her sister Rosina,  and her young son George, shaping her reluctance to reveal her suspected involvement in the murder of Hannah Brown. Mazzola neatly swings our own perception of her back and forth, with us constantly questioning her innocence or guilt in this heinous crime, and cleverly uses the, at times, witless Fleetwood to echo the doubts of the reader as he tries to unpick the mystery that is Sarah Gale, and in the process exposing some of his own family’s unsavoury secrets…

Mazzola’s depth of research is constantly in evidence, but never to the detriment of her ability for natural storytelling. You can positively taste, smell and feel the fear that inhabits Newgate prison, where Sarah is incarcerated. The utter despair or false bravado of her fellow prisoners is portrayed wonderfully, and the rundown and unhygienic confines of this disease-riddled gaol enfolds the reader in a foul miasma. A particular enjoyment of this book is the way that Mazzola incorporates the less politically correct attitudes exhibited in relation to women from the press, the courts and in wider society itself, neatly summed up by one quote from Fleetwood’s father; “Remember that, while women are often very good liars, they are generally less capable of independent and complex thought” and that women are generally more susceptible to loose morality and scurrilous crime. The book is peppered with references to the unfairness of the legal system when women are in the dock, and how the punishments meted out to them are more harsh in relation to the crimes committed, and more often than not leading to convictions on the flimsiest of evidence.

So all in all, a brilliantly researched, emotional, perceptive, and utterly engaging slice of Victorian crime fiction. It skilfully manipulates the reader’s responses to the accused, Sarah Gale, by using the reactions of Edmund Fleetwood who is emotionally drawn to both her, and the seeming travesty of justice against her, as well as painting a visceral and realistic picture of the period itself. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Tinder Press for the ARC)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coastal Crime- Clare Carson- The Salt Marsh / Simon Booker- Without Trace

I don’t know.

You wait ages for crime thrillers set around the location of Dungeness, and then, like buses, three turn up at once.

So following my review in May for William Shaw-  The Birdwatcher  here are two more recommended reads that both draw on this haunting and desolate backdrop….

Carson_02_THE%20SALT%20MARSHSam Coyle’s father lived in the shadows – an undercover agent among the spies and radicals of Cold War London. That world claimed his life, and Sam is haunted by his absence. He left nothing behind but his enemies; nothing to his daughter but his tradecraft and paranoia. Now, her boyfriend Luke is missing too – the one person she could trust, has vanished into the fog on the Kentish coast. To find him, Sam must follow uncertain leads into a labyrinth of blind channels and shifting ground. She must navigate the treacherous expanse of the salt marsh…

I was absolutely blown away by Carson’s debut  Orkney Twilight which remains one of the most lyrical, perfectly plotted crime thrillers I have read to date. The Salt Marsh pretty much picks up from the events of the first book, but, fear not if you have not read Orkney Twilight as the author brings you up to speed quickly with the previous plot. It seemed to me that there was a perfect symmetry in this book, with Carson wholly appreciating the need to provide the reader with an intriguing mystery, but also to explore some more weightier themes both in the emotional facets of her young female protagonist, Sam, and the environmental issues that the disappearance of her boyfriend provides links to. The use of the coastal locations in this book (as Orkney was in the first book) firmly root us in the strange territory between the strength, desolate beauty, and mythical nature of the natural world, set against man’s mission to harness and use these natural resources for sometimes nefarious ends. Throughout the course of the Carson balances the scientific with the philosophical and the harnessing of the alchemical with themes of myth and superstition. It’s intelligent, involving, and raises the book above standard thrillers.

As Sam is increasingly drawn into a dark plot involving environmental activism, the memory and influence of her late father, an undercover operative, begins to put her in the orbit of his former employers who seek to malign or use her throughout the course of the book. Sam is an incredibly well-realised character, strong-minded and set apart from the rest of her family by her refusal to conform, or settle to anything meaningful or what is expected by others. To quote Star Wars (as one should in every review possible) the force is strong in her, and the  influence of her father resonates in her more than she at first realises. I love the balance Carson inputs in her character from moments of wilful stubbornness, to her sometimes emotional naivety, but always tempered by an admirable sense of right and wrong, and her determination to confront and challenge both. This also worked as an influence on the reader, as this book consistently makes you question what appears to be happening before you, drawing you into Sam’s confusion and her increasing distrust of those around her. My attention was held completely throughout the book, and I would urge you to read both Orkney Twilight and The Salt Marsh if you like your crime multi-faceted with a more literary leaning. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Head of Zeus for the ARC)

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WITHOUT-TRACEIn a change of pace, Without Trace is a humdinger of a thriller with more twists than a barrelful of adders. With summer holidays approaching and either being stuck in a caravan in rainy Rhyl, or on a flight to a more exotic beach vacation, this could be a perfect read…

Being practically impossible to review in terms of plot, due to the pitfall of numerous potential spoiler moments, I’ll steer clear of the plot as much as possible, as I read this in a vacuum avoiding every other review of it. What I would say is that from the outset, Booker has tremendous fun with his readers, all believing ourselves to be pretty good amateur detectives, in a murderous tale packed full of red herrings and twists aplenty.

As our intrepid heroine Morgan Vine, a fairly normal divorced mother of one, expends her entire strength into clearing the name of her childhood sweetheart, Danny Kilcannon, having campaigned for his release from prison, she is increasingly drawn into personal danger when her daughter disappears. Some would say that her daughter, Lissa, is such a charmless little madam, that we shouldn’t care too much about her fate, but Morgan is not to be thwarted. As her suspicions about Danny rise, and she gets drawn in deeper with two female detectives investigating Lissa’s disappearance, Morgan finds herself increasingly isolated and at physical harm. Is Danny really as innocent as she believes him to be, and just where the jiggins has Lissa gone?

This is a good old page turner, using the pace and strategic reveals so beloved of American authors like Linwood Barclay and Harlan Coben, and so leads to a book that one finds quite difficult to put aside as the energy and pacing of the plot drives you onwards. The characterisation has just enough clarity and depth to keep you intrigued by their personal travails, and Danny’s character in particular sways your empathy back and forth throughout. I will be honest and say that my incredulity was stretched as the end of the book approached, and the final denouement does take more than a bit of suspension of disbelief, as Morgan does suddenly morph into Lara Croft in a violent conclusion to the tale, but for all that, I quite enjoyed reading this entertaining thriller with its curve balls and false leads. Switch off, relax and enjoy the ride.

I still think the dead sheep was in on it though…

(With thanks to twenty7 for the ARC)

 

 

 

*COVER REVEAL* A. D. Garrett- #TruthWillOut

Welcome to an exclusive cover reveal for Truth Will Out,  the third instalment of A.D.Garrett’s crime series featuring DCI Kate Simms and forensic expert Professor Nick Fennimore. Truth Will Out brings together the combined writing talents of Margaret Murphy ( author of nine internationally acclaimed psychological thrillers) and Helen Pepper,  a Senior Lecturer in Policing, former Crime Scene Manager, and Forensic Consultant. The Simms/Fennimore series is a must read for fans of psychologically intriguing, and forensically aware crime thrillers, and the Raven has very much enjoyed the previous two outings…

TruthWillOutGIF-64colours

A mother and daughter are snatched on their drive home from a cinema. The crime has a number of chilling similarities to a cold case Professor Nick Fennimore had been lecturing on. Then Fennimore begins receiving taunting messages – is he being targeted by the kidnapper?

Meanwhile, a photograph emailed from Paris could bring Fennimore closer to discovering the fate of Suzie, his own daughter, now missing for six years. He seeks help from his old friend, DCI Kate Simms, recently returned from the US. But Kate is soon blocked from the investigation… A mother and child’s lives hang in the balance as Fennimore and Simms try to break through police bureaucracy to identify their abductor.

Simms and Fennimore are complex, compelling and just plain marvellous.’ Jeffery Deaver

Follow A.D. Garrett on Twitter: @adgarrett1

Website : http://www.adgarrett.com/

 

everyone-lies-200pxEveryone Lies (Simms/Fennimore Book #1)

DCI Kate Simms is on the fast track to nowhere. Five years ago she helped a colleague when she shouldn’t have. She’s been clawing her way back from a demotion ever since. Professor Nick Fennimore is a failed genetics student, successful gambler, betting agent, crime scene officer, chemistry graduate, toxicology specialist and one-time scientific advisor to the National Crime Faculty. He is the best there is, but ever since his wife and daughter disappeared he’s been hiding away in Scotland, working as a forensics lecturer. Read Raven’s review here

Believe-No-One-200pxBelieve No One (Simms/Fennimore Book #2)

Detective Chief Inspector Kate Simms is on placement in the United States with St Louis PD, reviewing cold cases, sharing expertise. Forensic expert Professor Nick Fennimore follows her, keen to pick up where they left off after their last investigation. But Simms came to the US to escape the fallout from that case – the last thing she needs is Fennimore complicating her life. Read Raven’s review here

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